Stocks Going “Hungary” in Italy

A few months ago, I talked about how a financial transactions tax can have significant unintended consequences. Using Hungary as an example, I said that when the government implemented a levy of 0.5 percent on banks’ assets, bank credit growth rates plummeted. As a result, Hungary’s household and corporate sector credit growth rates became anemic compared to other Eastern European countries.

Now it appears that Italy is going “Hungary” by introducing a financial transaction tax that became effective in March. For shares of Italian companies, investors are taxed an additional 0.12 percent of the value of the shares purchased in a regulated market or trading platform. For over-the-counter transactions, the tax is even more costly, at 0.22 percent, according to Reuters.

Since going into effect on March 1, trading in Italian stocks through desks of major banks has plummeted. According to the Financial Times, average daily trading volumes in March have dropped about 40 percent compared to the previous month. “This is the biggest fall in volumes on any major European exchange so far this year,” says the FT.

I believe this is a great example of how government policies are precursors to change. With a reduction in trading volumes, fewer buyers and sellers participate in the bid-and-ask process, and less competition can cause prices to languish.

With fewer buyers owning shares of public companies, investors’ portfolios are likely going to be deficient in growth assets. Take a look at Investment Company Institute data showing a decline in the percentage of households in the U.S. holding individual stocks in 2012 compared to 2002. In addition, Americans are less likely to own shares of their companies’ stock today compared to 10 years ago.

With less stock ownership, many of these U.S. investors likely missed out on the market’s tremendous rise over the last few years.

In March 2013, ICI issued a response to the financial transaction tax that’s been introduced in the U.S., saying, “A financial transaction tax is bad policy that substantially reduces the investment returns of fund investors and retirement savers. Whether introduced in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere, financial transaction taxes slow economic growth, drive away financial activity, and make markets less efficient.”

I believe leaders in Washington D.C. and around the world should be focused on policies that encourage individuals to invest rather than making it more onerous. I hope those considering similar financial transactions are taking note.

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About Frank Holmes 282 Articles

Affiliation: U.S. Global Investors

Frank Holmes is CEO and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors, Inc., which manages a diversified family of mutual funds and hedge funds specializing in natural resources, emerging markets and infrastructure.

The company’s funds have earned more than two dozen Lipper Fund Awards and certificates since 2000. The Global Resources Fund (PSPFX) was Lipper’s top-performing global natural resources fund in 2010. In 2009, the World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX) was Lipper’s top-performing gold fund, the second time in four years for that achievement. In addition, both funds received 2007 and 2008 Lipper Fund Awards as the best overall funds in their respective categories.

Mr. Holmes was 2006 mining fund manager of the year for Mining Journal, a leading publication for the global resources industry, and he is co-author of “The Goldwatcher: Demystifying Gold Investing.”

He is also an advisor to the International Crisis Group, which works to resolve global conflict, and the William J. Clinton Foundation on sustainable development in nations with resource-based economies.

Mr. Holmes is a much-sought-after conference speaker and a regular commentator on financial television. He has been profiled by Fortune, Barron’s, The Financial Times and other publications.

Visit: U.S. Global Investors

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